Friday of Week 31 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Philippians 3:17-4:1

Paul continues to warn the Philippians about not being led astray in the living of their Christian faith. and he urges them to follow Paul’s own example.

This might sound arrogant but Paul, who had been himself such a devout and observant Jew, is utterly convinced that his whole life has now been taken over by Christ, and he now sees life in a completely different way. He is equally convinced that the Way of Jesus goes far beyond what the Law demands, and that it is the only test of a true interior spirituality. He also urges them to use as models other members of the community who see things the same way as Paul does.

Once again he deplores the presence of some who are “behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ”. Their lives are in glaring contrast to Paul’s own conduct and to the truth of the Gospel. They are behaving in a way which negates all that Jesus did for us by dying on the cross. Jesus’ death was our liberation and these people want to go back to a stifling and arid observance of the Law.

“They make food into their gods.” This does not quite mean that they live to eat, but rather that they have given a quite irrational importance to dietary laws. A person who eats “clean” food is good; a person who eats “unclean” food is bad. Jesus had this accusation thrown at him more than once. He responded by saying it was not what went into the stomach that counted, but what came out of the mouth and the heart.

“They are proudest of something they ought to think shameful.” This is a veiled reference to the prominence that circumcision gives to the male sexual organ, something that in all modesty (‘shame’ in actual meaning) we normally keep out of sight.

“The things they think important are earthly things.” The Law is something ‘earthly’. Although it was given by God on Mount Sinai, people’s goodness and virtue is being measured not by spiritual values, but by the external, physical observance of certain actions and rituals.

But for the followers of Christ, it is different. “Our homeland is in heaven.” That is, our eyes are focused not on the things we do in this world, including religious actions, but on God our Father, on Jesus his Son and our Brother, and on the Spirit that guides us into all truth and love. We live here, we “work out our salvation” here, but ultimately we do not belong here. We are on our way to a better home, where “every tear will be wiped away”.

We look forward to the day when Christ Jesus, Saviour and Lord of the whole universe, will come to take him to himself and transform our corruptible selves into something glorious that shares the very life of God.

Jesus’ power, earned by his total obedience in accepting death and given to him in his resurrection-ascension, is total and absolute. He will “change our lowly body”, subject to weakness, decay and death, to be like his glorious Body. The resurrection body, received already by Christ, who is the “firstfruits”, will be shared by believers in the future resurrection “harvest”. Then, the glorified Christ, as Alpha and Omega will draw all creation – us included – into total conformity with Himself, who is the image of the Creator God.

So, hang in there, urges Paul. “Do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord.” They are not to be led astray by the “dogs” and “cutters” who do not understand the call of the Gospel and are creators of division.

Our communities, too, can be undermined by people who, perhaps with good intentions, actually act against the spirit of the Gospel. Sometimes they are those who want to turn the clock back and restore old customs which the Church sees as no longer relevant in our day. Sometimes they are those who neglect all tradition, and act in an individualistic and self-centred way, where freedom becomes licence.

It is only by constant listening to God’s Word, constant sharing and careful discernment of the signs of the times, that we can remain faithful to the true spirit of Jesus’ teaching and the Gospel.

In the last sentence today, Paul expresses his deep affection for the Philippians, arguably his favourite church community. “I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.” Once again the word “joy” comes in. And they are also his “crown”, the high point, as it were, of his evangelising work. Great praise indeed for them.

How would Paul value our community, our local church, if he were to come among us today? Would we be his joy? Could we be seen as a crowning example of a Christian people?

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